In Australia’s Northern Territory (NT), a bill to amend the Northern Territory Medical Services Act, in order to decriminalise abortion, has passed in parliament. Voted through by 20 votes to four, this new bill brings in dramatic, positive changes for women in the NT seeking abortion services.
Women will no longer have to visit hospitals – sometimes hundreds of miles from home – to access abortion services. Instead, they can now attend specialist, local clinics. The bill also legalises the use of abortion drugs such as RU486 for up to nine weeks into pregnancy, offering women the non-surgical option to terminate a pregnancy in its infancy. As well as this, the bill officially changes the criminal code, meaning abortion is no longer regulated by the criminal law in the NT.
This hasn’t come easy. The bill is the result of months of difficult campaigning. In May 2016, a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) tried to get the amendments debated in parliament as a matter of priority, but this was voted down, stalling the next discussion by a number of months. The proposed changes also received strong opposition in the lead up to the vote, with another MLA describing abortion as a ‘fashion’.
This is a step forward for women in the NT. But abortion remains a criminal offence in Queensland and New South Wales. And the fight goes on across the Western world. It’s easy to forget that, while Western women have never had it so good when it comes to employment opportunities, education and participation in public life, we have yet to achieve real bodily autonomy. Abortion is still a criminal offence in the UK, and is only granted with the permission of two doctors. And, in the US, Donald Trump is making clamping down on abortion services a priority.
Women around the world still face the terrifying prospect of imprisonment for ending a pregnancy. We should all encourage our representatives to make a stand for women’s bodily autonomy. Draconian laws that restrict women’s freedom belong in the past. Modern abortion is safe and offers women freedom over their bodies and their futures. Let’s fight for it.